Personal touch … Myf Warhurst turns her gaze to comfort food.
Television hosts are a relaxed breed these days. Not too much horn-rimmed Brian Henderson formality left in the trade any more. Now they voice their own opinions, disagree with guests and jump over their own once-austere podiums to reach the audience in a new way.
Hosting no longer seems to involve impartiality or dry cleaning. The most celebrated hosts who were famous for leaving their imprimatur on the material - from Ray Martin to Molly Meldrum - now seem remarkably neutral. Andrew Denton and Shaun Micallef have busted open starchy hosting boundaries. Rules are broken, clipboards dropped and the host's desk/chair/microphone no longer represents control or ownership of any given show.
Talkin' 'Bout Your Generation and Randling are a bit of fun but mostly they are showcases for the personalities of the hosts and their television ''friends''. This sort of thing became all the rage with The Panel - it made no difference who hosted. Nouveau hosting democracy blurred the lines of demarcation so that now Micallef's antics really work only when Josh Thomas abuses his authority.
These hosts are also more likely to span genres, tackling documentaries about religion, music, cars or lost loves. Judith Lucy, Wendy Harmer, John Doyle and Adam Zwar all lend the personal touch when they go exploring, often relinquishing a little bit of journalism for a touch more entertainment.
Myf Warhurst's Nice (ABC1, Wednesday, 8pm) is a personal series, particular to its host. Without the charming Myf, we wouldn't have a show. She is ''nice'' and her humorous exploration of the mundane, almost invisible, comforts in life is pleasant - nice, even. Last week she had a good old wallow in the easy-listening love duet, a genre as unctuous as the regional vanilla slice. And yet the high point came when Myf sang her all-time favourite duet, Islands in the Stream, with Kenny Rogers. That sort of nonsense shouldn't bring a tear to the eye. Yet the host-girl was lost in the moment, lost for words and the result was terrific television.
This week's exploration of comfort food - the dim sim and the Chiko roll - plays a little more like a segment from Simon Townsend's Wonder World. Methinks Ms Warhurst cares more for tunes than snacks. There lies the inevitable downside of the delightfully biased host.
Joe Hildebrand is a likely lad to turn up on contentious television. Producers Michael Cordell and Nick Murray are already out on a limb with Dumb, Drunk and Racist (ABC2, Wednesday, 9.30pm), a documentary series that takes four Indians on an Australian road trip, revealing more warts than an old cane toad.
Hildebrand is not exactly Louis Theroux, but he's bright, mouthy and doesn't mind a bit of confrontation. He is in excellent company, with four attractive, articulate Indian visitors who have come to represent almost 1.2 billion people who think we are a pack of pissed bogans. They think this partly because we beat up their best and brightest who come here to study, and partly because every day 4.5 million Indian call-centre workers listen to our dazzling rhetoric, appalling language and unbridled racism. (It's unfair to judge any nation by its ability to be patient on hold to a call centre, but we are rubbish.)
Host Hildebrand makes no effort to hide his politics or agenda, and his humour, injected at every opportunity, seems more key than the story. This is a patchy but fascinating piece of work. Not exactly Go Back to Where You Came From but not as dry as a news piece on university race riots that might not attract an audience.
A long way from Idol, but still unable to shrug off that hosty delivery, Andrew Gunsberg fronts Photo Finish (ABC1, Thursday, 8pm), a new contest for amateur photographers. Ironically, a man so skilled at announcing bucket loads of prize money appears to be hosting a show without a prize. A keen snapper himself, Gunsberg is ideally suited to a gig more brainy and arty than unearthing another pop singer.
The show makes such a refreshing change from contests involving breaking down a salmon or singing up a storm. The only thing old-school about Photo Finish is Gunsberg's game-show patter. The man doesn't look comfortable without a big set and an ad break.
Don't miss ...
ABC1, Tuesday, 10pm
Host Jennifer Byrne and the lateness of the hour lead us to believe this should be a saucy chat about dirty books.
Life's Too Short
ABC1, Wednesday, 9.05pm
An excellent dwarf show with a cameo from Johnny Depp that almost rivals Liam Neeson's crazy star turn.
Shaun Micallef's Mad As Hell
ABC1, Friday, 8pm
Some of Micallef's most chaotic hosting efforts deliver mixed results.